Another Look at ‘The Conjuring’

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Ciara O’Brien is not impressed with all the fuss surrounding The Conjuring.
 
The horror genre has been through an inordinate amount of change, from so-called ‘torture porn’ and comedic horror to the more traditional gothic style. More recently entering the world of the blockbuster with the release of World War Z. This August, the latest offering from the people who brought us Insidious and Saw attempts to once again bring something new to the horror buffet.The Conjuring begins with an over-explanatory dramatization sequence detailing a haunting in 1968, before we are assured that what we are about to see is a ‘real’ story detailing one of the most difficult cases renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren have ever dealt with. Here, the ultimate issue with The Conjuring is immediately evident. Instead of being taken along for the ride, we are bombarded with too much information. Nothing is left to the imagination here.

 

We meet the Perrons, Carolyn, Roger and their five daughters. The Perrons make the ultimate mistake of uprooting their family and moving to a new home. When strange events take a malicious turn, the family has no choice but to call in the infamous paranormal investigative duo. We learn that there is no easy fix for the family and that they will be forced to confront their evil presence. What follows is a relentless attempt to force the audience into edge of their seat terror.

 

Both the Perrons and Warrens are charming enough to make the viewer care about them, with Patrick Wilson being effortlessly adorable as Roger. I am unsure how he maintains a straight face despite the Warrens being the most saccharine duo of paranormal investigators imaginable. We get to know both families intimately through a great deal of overtly explanatory dialogue which flies in the face of the old ‘show – don’t tell’ rule.

 

Director James Wan’s obsession seems to be in taking that childhood feeling of fearing monsters under the bed and applying it to adulthood. Somewhere along the way, Wan seems to have forgotten that what scared us as children existed in our imaginations, and by mapping everything out for us, he prevents us from experiencing true fear throughout. Wan’s specialty is his unique brand of ‘in your face’ horror, the kind that first shocked us in Saw. Unfortunately we have all become immune to its effects and The Conjuring fails to thrill.

 

Wan’s passion for the horror genre is evident throughout, with nods to movies such as The Amityville Horror as well as his use of the more classic generic tropes. His passion is infectious enough to ensure that the film is entertaining throughout, although probably not in the terrifying way he would prefer.

 

Going to see The Conjuring is a little bit like taking a trip through a particularly underwhelming ghost train – for the time you’re sitting in the dark, you’ll be having fun and laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, but once you leave you won’t be in any hurry to pay money for the experience again.

 

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Cinema Review: The Conjuring

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DIR: James Wan • WRI: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes  PRO: Rob Cowan, Tony DeRosa-Grund, Peter Safran DOP: John R. Leonetti  ED: Kirk M. Morri  DES: Julie Berghoff • CAST: Stuart Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston

It’s 1971, and Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga) are psychic investigators travelling the country and lecturing about the strange things they’ve seen. Lorrain is a clairvoyant and Ed a non-priest exorcist, and though they happily explain many of their investigations as nothing but squeaky floor boards and gurgling pipes, journalists and audiences are still skeptical about everything else – and their most famous case in Amityville is still in the future.

 

Elsewhere, Roger and Carolyn Perron (Livingston and Taylor) and their cute five daughters have moved into a big ‘ol house – and one of the first things they do is find a sealed basement, and wonder why the family dog growls and won’t go in the front door: not good signs.

 

Soon enough, Carolyn is waking up with unexplained bruises, the kids are being pulled out of bed, there are strange noises all over the place, and all the signs are there that something is haunting the house from basement to attic – but it’s much worse than that.

 

Desperate, Carolyn goes to see the Warrens and begs them for help. As soon as they arrive, Lorraine sees a dark presence surrounding the family members and knows they’re marked: but which person will this devil choose to possess?

 

Needing permission from the Vatican for an exorcism, they return armed with cameras and all sorts of equipment, and the knowledge that this was the home of a witch who sacrificed her own child before hanging herself from the tree outside – only now it’s too late for any help to arrive…

 

With the added frisson of being based on true events, this genuinely frightening and entertaining horror story harkens back to the classic domestic period horrors like The Exorcist and Poltergeist (and even the recent Woman In Black), but also brings the styles of The Blair Witch Project and even Paranormal Activity into play.

 

Australian-Malaysian director Wan cut his teeth on the original Saw and also helmed Insidious, and his innovative, tight skills – including some long tracking shots, upside-down swivels and shots where we see right into rooms and down corridors – reduces the need for cheap cut-aways that make you jump, and keeps you in the house, ratcheting up the tension.

 

 

Those jumpy moments are still here of course, but the horror is much more of the creeping, crawling kind: opening doors, banging windows, stopping clocks, rocking chairs – and it makes it more effective when the ghosts do briefly appear. In fact, when the person is possessed it’s even more terrifying – we’ve been in the house with them the whole time.

 

The writers also eschew heavy blood and gore, and show that a horror film can be made without the need for excessive violence. Less is more, and it’s always much more frightening in what you can’t see – at times, some of the child actors (all of them excellent) seem genuinely terrified.

 

It’s a high-end cast too, which helps as well. Farmiga does a great job, and Taylor – a “what is her name?” actress you recognize from things as diverse as Hemlock Grove, Six Feet UnderI Shot Andy Warhol and even Say Anything – gives a star turn (yes, in a horror movie).

 

James Bartlett

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details) 

112 mins
The Conjuring is released on 2nd August 2013

The Conjuring  – Official Website

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